How to Treat Cat Bites and Scratches

As much as humans interact with cats, it can be no surprise that cat bites are common injuries, especially in children. Treatment should always start with ensuring the safety of everyone involved, including the cat. Once that has been assured, there are simple steps to treating the wound and knowing when to see a doctor.

Cat yawning
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How to Treat a Cat Bite

Basic first aid skills are useful in treating a cat bite. On top of that, you need to take precautions when dealing with a cat that may be frightened or ill.

When faced with cat bite incidence, follow these basic steps:

  1. Separate the cat from the injured party. If the cat's owner is around, they are best suited to safely handle the pet. Don't start any treatment until there is a reasonable expectation that the cat won't attack again.
  2. If you are treating the injured party, take standard precautions whenever possible to protect yourself and the injured party. This includes washing your hands and wearing protective gloves (especially if there is significant bleeding).
  3. Control bleeding by applying direct pressure, placing a clean cloth or gauze over the wound and pressing firmly until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding is on the arm or leg, elevate the limb above heart level.
  4. If the cloth bleeds through, don't remove it. Rather place another cloth on top and keep applying pressure.
  5. If direct pressure cannot be maintained for an extended period of time, you can apply a pressure dressing. (Pressure dressings are not the same thing as a tourniquet, the latter of which is rarely recommended for anything but severe lacerations.)
  6. Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Any regular soap will do. Rinse thoroughly with water to remove any lingering debris.
  7. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibacterial ointment on the bite before covering, but that is usually not necessary.

If the cat is a stray or looks ill, call your local animal protection services. Do not attempt to restrain the cat if it looks scared or upset; you may only end up injuring yourself and/or the cat.

When to See the Doctor

Regardless of how severe you think the bite is, always consult a physician after a cat bite injury whether the wound needs stitches or not. Since cat bites are often deep, they pose a risk of infection. Even if there is no infection, they can cause scarring if the wound is not tended to properly (especially those on the face).

Cat bite may seem innocuous enough, but they have the potential to transmit certain diseases. The concern is greater if the cat is stray or feral.

Among some of the infections that cat bites and/or scratches can potentially transmit are:

Pasteurella multocida is especially concerning because it can spread from the bite to surrounding tissues, causing a severe infection called cellulitis. If the infection spreads to the blood, it can lead to blood poisoning (septicemia).

Rabies, caused almost exclusively by animal bites, can lead to severe symptoms including lockjaw and hydrophobia within 20 to 90 days of a bite. When these symptoms appear, the likelihood of death is high.

While rabies is rare in the United States, it remains a concern in areas where there are wild animals (which can transmit rabies to humans and pets alike)

Treatment

In addition to dressing the wound and applying stitches if needed, the treatment of a cat bite may involve antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection as well as a tetanus shot.

A rabies shot is usually not given following a cat bite. Rather, the pet may be quarantined for 10 days and observed for signs of rabies. No person in the United States has ever gotten rabies from a dog or cat held in quarantine for 10 days.

If the cat has not been captured and there are concerns about rabies, the rabies vaccine may be given as a precaution.

A Word From Verywell

In some parts of the United States, doctors are required to file a report about animal bites they treat with the local department of health. This includes bites from cats.

If the cat's rabies vaccination status is current, it may be placed under a short quarantine ranging from 10 to 14 days. If the rabies vaccination has lapsed, the quarantine may last longer.

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Article Sources
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